Social mobility at Burges Salmon: an apprentice's perspective

In this blog, legal apprentice Gareth Parfitt discusses what social mobility means to him and how Burges Salmon is working to improve social mobility within the firm.

14 April 2021

This article was written by Gareth Parfitt. 

Social mobility, just like diversity and inclusion, can be described in a number of ways. I would like to start by explaining what social mobility means to me, prior to discussing how this has been a key role in my own life, before concluding with an explanation of the effort Burges Salmon has made to improve social mobility at our firm.

In the UK, social mobility has been shown to be less prominent than other parts of the world. This means that the movement of individuals between social classes and in particular the climb up the corporate ladder is difficult to achieve. For many, movement between these communities is met with a number of social obstacles. In some areas of the UK, getting out of the community we are brought up in, is near impossible and a significant amount of effort is required to break through these social barriers.

The challenge companies face today with regards to their own social mobility, is by no means an easy task, and should be tackled with great care to avoid mistaking merit with tokenism.

Just like many others, my own pursuit of a career in law was met with a number of barriers to social mobility. My Dad works as a postman in the Welsh valleys, my step mum is a nurse, and I was the first in my family to want to go to university. This meant I was lacking the connections to law I previously thought were necessary to start my career. Combining this with advice from family that I would be silly to even try, only made me even more determined to find out if law was right for me.

The turning point in breaching my own barriers to social mobility came following a competition with LEDLET, where I was awarded work experience at Burges Salmon, among other laws firms and barristers chambers. During this time, I learnt about the existence of the apprenticeship scheme and the potential for moving across the social barriers I could see in my way.

Since then, Burges Salmon has done well to support the apprentices and I by providing us with opportunities that, just a few years ago, I never thought would be accessible to me. We have:

  • supervisors who support us in delivering work;
  • mentors with whom we can discuss our experiences more generally at the firm; and
  • the ability to deepen client relationships through secondments and socials.

Since joining the firm, we have been able to witness how Burges Salmon has encouraged social mobility through conversation, internal promotion and recruitment. The firm aims to recruit talent from all corners of the country, evidenced by our Bristol, London, Edinburgh and newly created Northern Ireland offices. There is a focus on making the prospects for promotion more visible and a desire to improve flexibility with regards to career changes within the company.

Networks such as BCultured and BProud (Burges Salmon's diversity and inclusion groups), allow for concerns around these topics to be heard and discussed. These networks have a number of aims. One of which is to increase the number of employees joining the firm from underrepresented backgrounds, as well as reverse mentoring senior leaders within the firm, about the difficulties those from these backgrounds face when pursuing a career in law. These challenges are being better understood every day and it's refreshing to see it being taken seriously.

Opportunities are everywhere at Burges Salmon, whether that is getting involved in a new area of law, or working for a client whose products you use on a daily basis. With the right amount of enthusiasm, people are keen to see where you can feed into work and make a positive impact. The firm has done well to realise that with the right tools and guidance from an early age, people will be able to open the doors that were previously closed to them, and take real steps towards breaking through their social barriers.

If you haven't yet seen our 'The Power of Inclusion' video, you can watch it below.

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